Minister for European Affairs writes about her busy week's schedule, including a trip to speak at debates the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The week begins in the Dublin Mountains. I’m up at 6am to go horse riding before work. When I have time I ride a few days a week. I'm not really a natural morning person, so I have to drag myself out of bed. Once I'm up there though its fantastic - a really exhilarating start to the day. I began riding when I was four years old but stopped when I went to college and got distracted by my social life. It's great to be back in the saddle.
The peacefulness of the hills is short-lived and I have to contend with traffic getting back to our home in Sandymount. Thankfully, it's a dry morning so the traffic isn't so bad. I make it home in 35 minutes. On a wet morning the number of cars on the road seems to quadruple. My record was 1 hour 30 minutes - not good for stress levels!
By mid-morning I’m in the familiar surrounds of Dublin Airport. My job as Minister for European Affairs involves almost constant travel at the moment. It is particularly intense right now because of Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the EU. Today I’m going to Paris for a couple of hours of meetings before taking the train to Strasbourg.
The TGV train from Paris to Strasbourg is a welcome break from aeroplanes. The countryside is beautiful and I struggle to read my huge briefing document. The changing views are much more appealing. I reach for my iPad to reply to a few emails only to discover the wifi on the train isn't working. I am a magnet for tech problems.
I arrive at our hotel to be greeted by a number of our Presidency team who have travelled down from Brussels. We meet in the lobby for half an hour to run through the following day's agenda. It's is my fifth time representing the Irish Presidency in the European Parliament plenary session in as many months. I know the drill fairly well at this stage, though it does seem that this will be a particularly intensive week.
We arrive at the imposing European Parliament building at 8am on Tuesday morning. The parliament sits here for one week every month and I have been coming since November 2011 in preparation for the Irish EU Presidency. Since January that has meant speaking on behalf of the EU Council at every debate in the plenary chamber. The topics are diverse, ranging from the obvious issues like the economic crisis to things like the protection of endangered species and climate change. I have to know about them all.
The big issue today is a debate with MEPs on Banking Union which is a major priority for us as it will ensure that European banks are properly supervised in future. It’s a long day. I spend a solid eleven and a half hours in the chamber debating. In addition I have meetings with MEPs on key policy priorities and some media interviews. I get back to the hotel just before midnight. Ravenous, we try to order some food, only to be told the kitchen closed at 10pm. I'm not good when I'm hungry! Eventually the waiter agrees to arrange some omelettes and BLTs for the starving Irish delegation. We are grateful!
Wednesday is the same story. In the morning I conduct negotiations with a number of key MEPs on the next EU seven year budget, worth €960 billion. This is the money that is used to fund motorways, agriculture, education and business grants so it’s vital that we reach agreement soon. Our hope is to have a deal before the end of the Irish presidency. I attend another seven meetings with MEPs and have more interviews with European journalists before taking my seat in the parliament chamber at 5pm for another seven hours of debates. The food arrives a bit more smoothly tonight - the waiter is beginning to take pity.
On Thursday morning, I go for a quick 5k run around Strasbourg and it’s time to leave. No calming train journey this time, instead we catch a flight to Amsterdam and race through the airport to make the tight connection to Dublin. I spend a few of hours in the office catching up on some constituency work before going home to see my husband Paul. We don't see much of each other these days, but I'm told absence makes the heart grow fonder. We catch up before hopping into the car to take advantage of the long bright evening. Thankfully we're both mad about horses and we head for the hills to go riding before it gets dark. When I get home it's late but must I draft some points for a speech I have to deliver in the morning.
I’m in Farmleigh early on Friday morning to welcome Ministers from the countries of the Western Balkans. As part of the presidency I’m hosting a conference on EU enlargement, something which I’m passionate about. Last week I spent a morning at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland which is a shocking reminder of how far Europe has come in a short period of time. Today we’re bringing together ministers and policy makers from countries that were at war less than 20 years ago. Now they’re working together towards the goal of EU membership. I'm extremely proud that Ireland is playing its part in this crucial reconciliation. This is a real highlight for me.
Late in the afternoon I’m back at Government Buildings to chair a meeting between senior officials from every government department which monitors progress on our policy priorities under the Irish presidency. We go through each issue individually, discussing what needs to be done to achieve our objectives by the end of June.
Before my day is done I launch an exhibition of photographs capturing former French president Charles de Gaulle’s holiday in Sneem and Connemara in 1969. The president had just left office and came to Ireland for six weeks to write and reflect. The photos, taken by the late Padraig and Joan Kennelly from Sneem, are extraordinarily beautiful and evocative. Councillor Paddy McCartan is deputising for the Lord Mayor at this French Embassy hosted event. This is fitting as General de Gaulle was a descendent of the the McCartan clan.
Afterwards I go for a late dinner in town with a friend of mine who's visiting from Belfast. We lived together for years when we were in Trinity and afterwards, so it's good to catch up and exchange gossip!
I like to catch up on constituency work on Saturday mornings. After this I attend the annual Rathfarnham parish fundraising sale, which takes place in High School, Rathgar. I meet my friend and local Councillor there, Edie Wynne. It's one of my favourite local events because the cakes on sale are to die for. I stock up on unusual chutneys and jams and then purchase a few chocolate cupcakes. .. for Paul of course.
In the afternoon I meet a group of constituents about a flooding problem in Dublin 6. Later I take the dog down to Sandymount strand for a run until we're both sufficiently exhausted. Then I watch the Leinster match on TV. I'm sorry now that I didn't get tickets and head for the RDS, although an evening on the couch has its appeal.
I like to keep Sunday sacred, but that's not always possible. Today I'm performing the official opening at a conference focusing on Epilepsy, which Gay Mitchell is involved in organising. There are 300 delegates from all corners of Europe. It's a good cause and I'm pleased to be involved.
I go for brunch with Paul in Sandymount before saddling up in a different way to support a good cause. Ciaran Mulligan, local businessman, has organised the second annual Cafe Java charity cycle in aid of the St Vincent de Paul and Aware. The great and the good of Sandymount are out in force to support the cause. I opt for the 40K route to Howth. It's not too bad a cycle, except for the killer hill as you turn back from Howth towards town. The weather is fantastic and there is a party atmosphere on the Green when we return, tired and weary.
Notwithstanding the weariness, after the cycle I go riding again, before coming home and firing up the BBQ for the first time in 2013. I'm hoping it wont be a once off occasion like last summer. A couple of friends call over to sample Paul's culinary (or more accurately crematory) skills. It's nice to finally be able to sit out and enjoy some good weather. Afterwards I pack again for the week ahead. Off to New York and Washington DC on Monday morning for an intensive series of bilateral meetings and speaking engagements. No rest for the wicked.
Lucinda Creighton is the Minister for European Affairs. This article was originally published in the Sunday Times.